California courts use a relatively complicated formula to determine how much child support a parent must pay. A court will look at several factors, such as the child’s needs and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Perhaps the most important factor is the parent’s ability to pay.

With that in mind, judges look at all of the parent’s income, including wages, tips, commissions, bonuses, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, interest income, dividend income and more. Even lottery winnings or payouts from insurance claims can be counted as income for purposes of calculating child support.

The thing is, many people’s income can change suddenly and wildly. A child support payment amount that worked comfortably in January can become impossible by April if the parent has lost a job or other income.

After all the hassle of getting the first order finalized, and all the pain and frustration involved with child custody and divorce, many parents are reluctant to deal with legal issues again when they start having trouble with child support payments, but waiting too long to deal with the problem is a mistake. California has many options when it needs to enforce a child support order, including suspension of a driver’s license, suspension of a passport or professional license and interception of tax refunds and insurance payments.

In particularly bad cases, the court can find a parent in contempt of court and have them arrested.

The good news is that it’s relatively easy to avoid these terrible fates. All you have to do is request a modification.

Yes, requesting a modification means you have to deal with legal issues again, but it’s much better than the alternative, which is to have the law deal with you.

If your income has changed and you can no longer meet your child support obligations, talk to a lawyer about requesting a modification as soon as you can.